Let us prey

Jack Abramoff and his deeply religious right-wing cronies express their "biblical worldview" by swindling Indian tribes and bribing legislators. Verily, mysterious are the ways of the Lord.

Published January 6, 2006 11:34AM (EST)

Now that such whited sepulchers as Newt Gingrich have denounced the betrayal of the Republican revolution and the evils of congressional corruption, what more can be said about Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Tom DeLay and all the other politicians, operatives and bagmen implicated in their schemes? Perhaps it is worth expressing a small hope that the good religious people of this country will rise up in outrage against the abuse of their faith by all these pious hypocrites.

Rarely has the contrast between the rhetoric of the religious right and the behavior of its leaders been so starkly exposed as in the Abramoff scandal. The most obvious example was the manipulation of Christian activists in Louisiana and Texas by Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who said he was helping them fight gambling when he was actually using them to promote Indian casinos (and to make a few million bucks for himself).

That episode alone should have alerted honest Christians to the moral rot within the Republican leadership that professed to represent their interests. But there is of course much more evidence of the religious cynicism of Abramoff and his cronies.

Consider the curious figure of Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a self-styled authority on the relationship between biblical morality and modern political life who is also a great pal of Abramoff's and DeLay's. An outstanding example of the bogus religiosity that has enshrouded this gang, Lapin has scarcely received the notice he deserves in the scandal, although he has provided many of the most darkly comical moments as it unfolded during the past year.

For those who don't know him, Lapin leads conservative organizations that have brought him alliances with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Michael Medved, as well as close friendships with DeLay and Abramoff.

This particular man of God, vaunted for his scholarly understanding of the Bible and his apologetics for Christian fundamentalism, turns out to have served as a money launderer and fraudster for Abramoff. He was paid by Abramoff's bogus Washington charity, the Capital Athletic Foundation, which passed money along to the wife of California Rep. John Doolittle, among other dubious "charitable" payments. Lapin's own peculiar "religious charity," Toward Tradition, took in thousands of dollars from an online gambling firm, which it then passed along to the wife of DeLay staffer Tony Rudy.

Abramoff showered money on Lapin and his family, and the right-wing rabbi was not ungrateful. When the ambitious lobbyist needed to embellish his curriculum vitae to impress the overseers of the prestigious Cosmos Club in Washington, Lapin gladly furnished him with fake awards attesting to his religious scholarship.

"I just need to know what needs to be produced ... letters? Plaques? Neither?" he asked in an e-mail to Abramoff.

"Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that's it," the lobbyist replied. "As long as you are the person to verify them [or we can have someone else verify one and you the other], we should be set. Do you have any creative titles, or should I dip into my bag of tricks?"

What Lapin ultimately bestowed on his benefactor was a backdated award from Toward Tradition, the group he founded to restore morality in America. It named Abramoff a "Scholar of Biblical and American History."

It would be interesting to hear Lapin -- or Falwell or Robertson, both of whom have defended these crooks until now -- explain how swindling Indian tribes and handing out money and favors to legislators fits into the "biblical worldview" they supposedly espouse. A decade ago, Reed described his mission as "changing the soul of American politics," but he proved perfectly willing to sell the soul of his movement as soon as the opportunity arose. In fact, he pleaded with Abramoff to send him the business.

Not many politicians have been as bold as DeLay in publicly claiming the mandate of heaven. Who can forget his justification for pushing the impeachment of Bill Clinton, whom he accused of having the "wrong worldview"? While the Hammer cavorted on Scottish golf courses and gorged himself on Malaysian banquets, he was assuring the faithful on Capitol Hill that the Almighty had chosen him for leadership and was teaching him how to do his job.

Several years ago, at one of many fundamentalist meetings he has addressed, DeLay explained: "He [God] has been walking me through an incredible journey, and it all comes down to worldview. He is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me."

Well, perhaps not everywhere and perhaps not everything. What did God tell DeLay about those lavish trips and dinners and donations, and about the money funneled to his wife? The actual Bible, which he professes to believe is the word of the Lord, is quite clear on the question. Bribery is strictly prohibited in Exodus 23:8 and Job 36:18, which specifically warns: "Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside."

DeLay once claimed to have been inspired by the writings of Charles Colson, the Watergate felon who found religion in prison. Whatever may become of Abramoff, Reed, DeLay and their luckless co-conspirators, the Colson path will not be open to them. When you've spent a lifetime exploiting religion for profit and power, it's a lot harder to convince anyone that you've undergone a jailhouse conversion.

By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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